Ornamental fisheries (fish for the aquarium trade) are an important component of international wildlife trade. FAO has estimated that the value of the international trade for ornamental fish has increased by around 14% per year since 1985. It has been valued at approximately USD 15 billion per year as a combined figure for freshwater and marine species.
Developing countries account for about two thirds of the total export and as such ornamental fisheries often play an essential role in human livelihoods and development. For example, in the Rio Negro of the Amazon in Brazil, the ornamental fishery is responsible for around 70% of the revenue of the Barcelos municipality and is crucial for nearly 1,000 families directly involved in the fishery. In Kerala, India, 114 freshwater fish species are exported for the ornamental fish trade (Tlusty et al., 2008).
However, there are a number of challenges facing those relying on ornamental fisheries for their livelihoods, including equitable sharing of benefits, problems caused by habitat loss and degradation, harmful fishing practices (especially overfishing), introduced species and changes in international trade patterns as a result of consumer preferences, methods of fish production and international regulation.
Despite these challenges, done at sustainable levels, extraction of freshwater ornamental fish can be both a vital component of human livelihoods and a mechanism for environmental protection. Many of these fisheries are within and rely on intact tropical forests. As such ornamental fisheries can be used as a base mechanism to avoid deforestation and protect remaining forests. They can therefore become a force in reducing the global carbon trading economy, as well as a motive for local people to protect their forests and water bodies from other detrimental impacts. Furthermore, the reduced need to invest in avoided deforestation has the potential to free-up some resources for “…shoring up the fisheries management milieu where needed, or in investing in the community to provide access to fishery grounds through land acquisition, as well as programs to provide insurance and unemployment/retirement benefits to fisher folk”. (Tlusty et al., 2008).